Vaginal cancer – not to be confused with cervical cancer – is a rare form of the disease, which manifests in the vagina itself. Usually, the cancerous cells occur in the birth canal, which lines the vagina.
While there are several kinds of cancers that can spread to the vagina, cancer that begins there is fairly uncommon. Nonetheless, it’s worth being aware of the risk, as well as the symptoms associated with it: as with any other type of cancer, early detection and treatment will give you the best chance of recovery. Once cancer begins to spread, it becomes a lot more difficult to treat.
Vaginal cancer risk factors
Risk factors may increase your chances of developing a disease, but don’t definitively indicate that you will. For vaginal cancer, risk factors include:
- Age: most cases are diagnosed in women aged 50 to 70
- Smoking: smoking increases your chance of almost all types of cancers
- Previous diagnosis of cervical cancer
- Previous radiation therapy
- Having had a hysterectomy
- The long-term use of a pessary, which is a device used to hold a sagging uterus in place
These factors don’t mean you’ll definitely develop the disease, but could put you at greater risk of it.
Vaginal cancer symptoms
Visit your gynaecologist or clinic as soon as possible if you notice any of these symptoms:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge, particularly watery discharge
- Pain during sex
- Pain or difficulty when urinating
- Abnormal bleeding – for example, after sex, or if you’ve already reached menopause
- A lump or mass in your vagina
- Frequent urination
- Pelvic pain
Concerned about your symptoms? Let us help
At Marie Stopes centres across SA, we offer complete, confidential women’s wellness check-ups to help put your mind at ease. Whether you’re worried about specific symptoms or simply want to make sure you’re in the best possible health – something you should do every year – we’re a great place to start.